Notre Dame had recovered from their week one loss. Michigan looked like a mid-major program. The record attendance in the biggest stadium in college football had little impact. The Irish outplayed the Wolverines in dominant fashion.
Then the fourth quarter happened.
That's why Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense woke up. They rattled off two touchdowns just minutes into the fourth, cutting the Irish lead from 24-7 to 24-21.
From there, the Irish played clock management, and did well, but were unable to get within striking distance. Robinson lead the Wolverines to a late touchdown, giving Michigan its first lead at 24-28. The Irish struck right back with 30 seconds remaining, taking an improbable 31-28 lead.
But the clock still had seconds left, and that was more than enough for the Maize and Blue, as they marched down the field quickly, scoring on a great touchdown pass with just two seconds remaining.
The entire state of Michigan celebrated, while Irish fans all but ran out of the stadium.
Tommy Rees started the game looking like a championship quarterback, leading the Irish to an early 14-0 lead on their first two possessions. Then he started making bad decisions, pressing, and allowed Michigan to stay in the game.
The Irish committed five turnovers... again. Rees did well, except for those two interceptions and the inability to complete clutch passes in the second and third quarters that could have helped put the game out of reach.
As it stands, a Michigan offense that was shut down all game by a stout Irish defense found its stride and finally made something happen. Robinson stopped throwing interceptions (he had 3), and two unlikely comebacks put the Wolverines in the hunt for a BCS bowl.
Meanwhile, the Irish are left wondering how it all went wrong.
Perhaps they eased up with such a large lead late in the game.
Or perhaps, as coach Brian Kelly put it, the Irish simply are not good enough. Not good enough to finish games. Not good enough to play four quarters.
In the end, the Irish gave this one away, much as they did their first game. They were not outplayed. They had the better athletes. They had the better offense, and the better defense.
What the Irish lacked, in both games, was heart and passion.
The Irish must regroup for this week's game at home against another tough Big Ten team in Michigan State. If the Irish fail to regroup and find some passion, this season will quickly spin out of control.
This week's game is a must win. Gone are the national title hopes. Gone are the BCS hopes. All that is left is honor. That could be long forgotten if the Irish lose to a great Spartans team.
2011: the year that could have been. It's now the year of turnovers.